Female powerhouses across the board are shaping the future of Hollywood. Between Halsey, Ariana Grande, and Demi Lovato, girl power is surging in the entertainment industry, and we couldn’t be happier about it. But wait, don’t you ever wonder who is behind the magic of their glamorous music videos? One of the industry’s top directors Hannah Lux Davis chatted with us about what goes on behind the scenes of her videos, what it’s like working with some of the biggest names in music, and her own creative process. You know her videos, but it’s time to get to know her. Trust me, she’s amazing. Read an excerpt of our conversation below and order a copy of the Winter 2019 issue here.
Music videos are often highly collaborative so how do you make your mark of authenticity when you’re not necessarily the figure being shown in the video?
At the beginning of my career, I thought every video I did had to be a very certain way. I get artists who say things like, “Oh, it’s my face and I need things to be perfect.” And I totally get it. Sometimes you get that reality check in knowing it’s their video, their face, and their brand, so you want to make sure they are 100% comfortable. I’ll answer this question in a way of why I think it’s important for the artist authenticity to show and how I then bring in my authenticity. When working with an artist, I try to do something that is right and specific for them. I want it to be comfortable for them when they are in a certain outfit or in a vibe because if you have something that they are comfortable with but that also pushes them, that’s when you get something super successful. This is opposed to something that is trying too hard or is trying to make a bold statement with flashy things. There are moments where someone wants to make something super raunchy and sexy, and then you have to look back and think, “Okay, what are we trying to say?” You have to dissect it in a way that makes it feel purposeful. For me and my authenticity, I think any video I do has a little bit of me in it. There have been videos that I don’t have on my website or have taken my name off of, and those are specific examples of where it didn’t feel like my directing or vision. There are a lot of back and forth moments, but a lot of the time, I am brought on and they are the ones paying me and telling me how to do a job. But there are definitely instances where I’ve taken my name off things. It comes down to different tastes and me realizing it didn’t feel authentic for me at all and didn’t show what I am capable of.
Are there a lot of women you see sacrificing authenticity in the industry to prove a point or to fit in? How do you combat that?
There are instances where an artist can get insecure and say things like “I can’t wear that because another artist wears things like that.” The artists I work with now are pretty good at understanding where everyone else is at and know their lane. I’m not saying two people can’t live in the same lane, but people are trying to be different and out-of-the-box all the time. I’d say I’ve seen instances at the beginning of some careers where they say, “Let’s just do something really crazy. Let’s do something really sexy.” It’s not even just women, it can be guys. I did hip-hop videos and they want the girls to be a certain way because another artist had girls a certain way. I’ve steered them into a direction that might be a little more tasteful.
Speaking of women, you have worked with tons of female figures such as Ariana Grande and Halsey. Society, unfortunately, pits women against each other so as a female director, how are you noticing women build each other up now?
I’ve noticed a good shift. About four years ago, I noticed more competition between artists on set. Some artists would get upset if another artist was brought up. It wasn’t me bringing the other artist up, but let’s say there would be a photo or a reference of an artist’s “competitor.” I say “competitor” because that’s how they would treat it. I’ve had an instance where an artist told me to take down all photos with references. Now, it’s gotten better, but crew members will bring up things like, “Oh yeah, I remember a shot like this done in whoever else’s music video.” As an example, I was shooting the “Alone” music video for Halsey, and it was the same place Taylor Swift filmed her “Delicate” music video. I don’t know who brought it up, but Halsey said, “Yeah, that music video was so good. I have so much respect for Taylor [Swift].” It was nice to see support among girls. I see such a sisterhood among women now, whereas four or five years ago, it was way more cutthroat.
What has been one of your favorite videos to direct and create? Why?
I did a video for David Guetta and Anne-Marie, and I love working with them. They have amazing teams and are just great people, and the song is amazing! It’s called “Don’t Leave Me Alone.” I love working with them because they are people that let me do my own thing. They are involved when approving the idea, but once there’s a green light, they really trust me to do my thing. It’s so much fun working with people when they give you that level of trust. Obviously, I love the collaboration as well, but it’s nice to be able to move quickly, make decisions, and run with your gut. We shot in London, and London offers such a diverse atmosphere; we get used to seeing videos shot in LA or New York. And the casting, oh my gosh. The casting in London is so good. They are so worldly and wonderful, and they make it clear they are willing and wanting to be there. They show up on time, and the hair and makeup are great. I find it refreshing to find a new batch of creative people. The concept I used for the video was a concept I’ve been wanting to use for so long, and it was the perfect track. It was nice to get it done in one day, and the edit was fun. Anne-Marie is also just a great person. She’s so talented and has a wonderful personality. She’s lovable and so real; she doesn’t hold back. If you have her with a really strong lead actor, she’s right up there with them. You can tell them to stare into each other’s eyes and touch each other’s face, and most actors would kind of giggle, but she’s in it and knocks it out of the park. Her glam team is also amazing. David Guetta is, of course, a superstar, so anytime I can collaborate with him, I do.
What’s one song you would love to create a video for?
Honestly, anything Britney Spears or Avril Lavigne. That’s the era that got me into making music videos. But all those videos from back in the day are already so perfect, I wouldn’t want to re-do any of them. This is going to be random, but I was obsessed with Thirty Seconds to Mars in film school, and I would download the videos and cut them together and study them and their edit points. I think the song I would pick would be Thirty Seconds to Mars’ song “Attack.” It’s such a fun song to cut videos to. There are so much guitar and drums, and that’s not something you get a lot of these days. I started my career filming metal bands, and it’s cool to get them doing their thing.
What’s one artist you’ve worked with that has surprised you in a good way?
Paris Hilton. She’s f***ing awesome. She’s so cool and so down to earth. She is one of the nicest people, and she gives so many f***s. There was one video where we were tapped out for budget and tried to get more cast, and she just said, “That’s okay. I’ll get the guys and pay for them.” That’s dedication. She was so fun and passionate about every little thing. Her ideas were from unicorns to Lisa Frank to underground sex clubs. She’s just so fearless, and I find that admirable.
Another video I want to talk about is one with Kacey Musgraves. She’s so wonderful. I did her video for “High Horse.” She’s kind of an opposite of an Anne-Marie situation to the point that we would be texting constantly about concepts, the art direction, every prop, and every outfit. That’s also super fun because you really get to know the artist and build a relationship with them. It’s rewarding, and I just wanted to throw that side of everything out there.
What’s one thing about behind the scenes work you wish viewers understood?
I would want people to know about the budget. Fans have no idea how much an artist spends. Some fans say some videos aren’t as good as the artist’s other videos. They don’t know the budget and circumstances that are around a video. Some artists get a million dollars while others don’t. Obviously, huge budget videos are going to feel like huge budget videos. When it gets close to award shows, some budgets are huge and it is hard to compete.
STORY ELIZABETH STAFFORD
PHOTOS RAUL ROMO
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Winter 2019 – Volume IV – Issue No. 001
Cover: Hannah Lux Davis